Mental health problems – an introduction

Explains what mental health problems are, what may cause them, and the many different kinds of help, treatment and support that are available. Also provides guidance on where to find more information, and tips for friends and family.

Your stories

We've come so far, but got so far to go

Juliette blogs about stigma and misunderstanding and why it's time to change attitudes.

Juliette Burton
Posted on 16/07/2015

How are you?

Claire blogs about the question 'How are you?' and why we should answer honestly.

Posted on 11/05/2015

Tom and Morgan's epic fundraising cycle

Tom and Morgan have set out on a 2000-mile bike ride from Hanoi to Singapore to raise money for mental health.

Posted on 27/03/2015

How can I help myself?

Self-care techniques and general lifestyle changes can help manage the symptoms of many mental health problems, and may also help to prevent some problems from developing or getting worse. Here are some tips for looking after yourself that you might find helpful:

If these work well for you then you may find you don't need any formal treatment. However, it’s important to remember that there is unlikely to be an instant solution. Recovering from a mental health problem is likely to take time, energy and work.

(See our pages on improving and maintaining your mental wellbeing for more self-care suggestions and tips.)

Nourish your social life

Feeling connected to other people is important. It can help you to feel valued and confident about yourself, and can give you a different perspective on things. If you can, try to spend more time with your friends and family – even a phone call can make a difference.

If you don't have supportive friends and family around you and are feeling isolated, there are other ways you can make connections. For example, you could try joining a group like a book club or local community group to meet new people.

I try to have a friendly conversation everyday, even if it is online with distant friends.

Try peer support

When you experience a mental health problem it can feel like no one understands. Peer support brings together people who’ve had similar experiences to support each other. This can offer many benefits, such as:

  • feeling accepted for who you are
  • increased self-confidence
  • meeting new people and using your experiences to help others
  • finding out new information and places for support
  • challenging stigma and discrimination

You can contact Mind’s Infoline for details of local support groups near you, or try online peer support like Mind’s Elefriends community (see our pages on how to stay safe online for tips on using online support safely).

Make time for therapeutic activities

There are various techniques and therapies you can safely practise on your own. For example:

  • relaxation – you may already know what helps you relax, like having a bath, listening to music or taking your dog for a walk. If you know that a certain activity helps you feel more relaxed, make sure you set aside time to do it. (See our pages on relaxation for more tips.)
  • mindfulness – mindfulness is a therapeutic technique that involves being more aware of the present moment. This can mean both outside, in the world around you, and inside, in your feelings and thoughts. Practising mindfulness can help you become more aware of your own moods and reactions. (See our pages on mindfulness for more tips.)
  • ecotherapy – getting out into a green environment, such as the park or the countryside, is especially helpful. If you have a garden, you may want to spend more time there. If you like gardening, there may be an ecotherapy group near you. (See our pages on ecotherapy for more tips.)

These activities can be particularly valuable if you don't want to try medication or talking treatments, or you're having to wait a while for treatment on the NHS.

I really have to remember to be kind to myself and actually try to function when I'm unwell. Otherwise things spiral even faster.

Look after your physical health

Taking steps to look after your physical health can help you manage your mental health too.

  • get enough sleep – this can help you have the energy to cope with difficult feelings and experiences. (See our pages on coping with sleep problems for more tips.)
  • eat healthily – what you eat, and when you eat, can make a big difference to how well you feel. (See our pages on food and mood for more tips.)
  • keep physically active – doing regular exercise can be very effective in lifting your mood and increasing your energy levels. It doesn't have to be very strenuous or sporty to be effective – to start with you could try gentle exercise like going for a short walk, yoga or swimming. The important thing is to pick something you enjoy doing, so you're more likely to stick with it. If you are physically disabled, you may want to contact a local disability group or Disability Rights UK for information about exercises you might be able to do. Alternatively, ask your doctor for advice. (See our pages on physical activity and sport for more tips.)
  • look after yourself – when you're experiencing a mental health problem, it's easy for personal care to not feel like a priority. But small things, like taking a shower and getting fully dressed, whether or not you're going out of the house, can make a big difference to how you feel.
  • avoid drugs and alcohol – while you might want to use drugs or alcohol to cope with difficult feelings, in the long run they can make you feel a lot worse. You can contact Turning Point for information and support to stop using drugs and alcohol.

Exercise is hugely beneficial, in whatever shape or form. Keep on moving.

Mind's programme Get Set to Go is supporting people living with a mental health problem to get into sport and exercise. Contact your local Mind to see if they're running any groups.

Contact a specialist organisation

If you have a diagnosis, or would like support in a specific area, try contacting a specialist organisation for help. For example:

  • Hearing Voices Network runs an online forum and local groups across the country.
  • Mind Out offers mental health advice and support for anyone who identifies as LGBTQ+.
  • No Panic offers help and advice about anxiety disorders, including a helpline and recovery groups.
  • YoungMinds supports children and young people with their mental health.

Challenge stigma and discrimination

Unfortunately, not everyone understands mental health problems. You might find that that some people hold misconceptions about you based on your diagnosis, or use language you find offensive or hurtful. This can be very upsetting, especially if someone who feels this way is a friend, colleague, family member or a health care professional.

But it's important to remember that you aren't alone, and you don’t have to put up with people treating you badly. Here are some options for you to think about:

  • show people Mind’s information to help them understand more about what your diagnosis really means.
  • know your rights – (see our legal pages for more information)
  • contact an advocate – an advocate is someone who can support your choices and help you make your voice heard. (See our pages on advocacy for more information.)
  • get involved in a campaignTime to Change and Time to Change Wales organise national campaigns to end stigma and discrimination towards mental health problems.

This information was published in December 2015. We will revise it in 2018.

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